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Pop Music Reviews : Anti-Helmet Law Concert Misfires

From Billy Idol’s signature yells to Steve Vai’s guitar solos, plenty of noise was kicked up Wednesday at the Shrine Auditorium in denunciation of the state’s new motorcycle helmet law.

But for all the racket, the “Freedom Benefit Concert” was a misfire on nearly all fronts.

Consider:

* One of the three scheduled co-headliners, Motley Crue, canceled just hours before showtime. When asked why Crue abruptly backed out, concert organizer Otto Felix said only: “Management.”

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* The show, a benefit to raise money to support a lawsuit challenging the state’s mandatory helmet law that will become effective Jan. 1, drew only 3,900 patrons to the 6,800-seat hall.

* An unannounced addition, John Mellencamp, showed up with his band, but was unable to perform due to time constraints.

Then there were the performances themselves. Country singer Dwight Yoakam’s impressive opening set was followed by a flaccid string of acts that grew more dismal as the night grated on.

Idol, despite some minor flares of inspiration on some new material, otherwise seemed bent on self-parodic renditions of his biggest hits. With Crue absent, guitar hero Vai held the final slot on the bill, and he encouraged those who hadn’t already headed for the exits in that direction with a 25-minute set of self-indulgent guitar meanderings that seemed to last for hours.

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To close the show, Vai was joined by singer Don Dokken, comedian Sam Kinison and a cast of dozens--including a horde of female fans holding backstage passes who tried their hands at singing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and the Troggs’ “Wild Thing.”

Yoakam, backed by a six-piece band, far outclassed the rest of the lot, delivering a rollicking, eight-song set. He also stayed focused on the evening’s theme, including versions of the Grateful Dead’s rambling outlaw manifesto “Truckin,” and Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Stick Together,” which served as a call of unity to the crowd.


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